The Kid Blender: When Should I Introduce My Kids to Someone New?
So, you’ve met Mr. Right or at least a possible candidate. And as we all know, there is no way to confirm that he is actually the “real thing” until he has been introduced to the kids and you see how everyone interacts. And that means getting to the next step: Setting up the introduction.
In the beginning stages, when you’re thinking about introducing your child to someone new, it’s important to remember that you and your child may be on 2 different timelines: You may be excited about this new stage in your life while your child may be dreading the changes he/she knows are on the horizon. If you’ve been through a divorce or suffered a loss, chances are you child knows that you may not want to be alone forever. And that means more adjustments for them.
Now, this was a personal rule of mine, but I did not introduce my kids to a Mr. Right Candidate until we had been dating for at least 3 months. I found that by 3 months, I had a clearer idea of who the person was and if there was even a possibility of this relationship making it for the long haul. I dated a couple of people and that at the 1 month mark I thought, “YES!” and by the 3 month mark I thought, “Maybe not.”
During that “getting to know you” time, it’s not a bad idea to introduce this new person to some of your friends…without any of the kids. The people closest to you know who you are, they know your children, and they ultimately want the best for all of you. When I began dating, I knew that it was ultimately my decision who I liked and who I didn’t. But my friends were able to look at a prospect through different eyes and I valued their opinions and took what they said to heart before I entertained the thought of introducing someone new to my children.
Introductions can be tricky and a lot depends on how old your children are and how they feel about your particular situation. Young kids who have suffered the loss of a parent might be thinking, “Yay! A new Daddy!” while older children who have been through a divorce might be looking at you warily and thinking, “You want to introduce us to who?” (I was going to use the grammatically correct “whom” but I don’t know many teenagers who would say that.)
That’s why it’s important to truly take your individual child(ren)’s needs into consideration, which, let’s be honest…can be hard. I mean, you may be feeling happy in your new relationship and anxious to get to what you believe is the next phase in your life. But pushing too hard or moving too fast often won’t help the situation. Your new significant other might feel unwanted pressure and your kids may develop some resentment towards this new person in their lives right from the start.
Given the extreme changes my kids and I have been through together, I’ve learned the fine art of age appropriate honesty. For example: When I began dating, my children were still basically toddlers, so they had no concept of what that really meant. I could just say, “I’m going out with a friend” and they wouldn’t think anything of it.
Now that they’re older, they know that “going out” and “friend” could mean different things. And while I don’t think it’s appropriate for a parent to tell their children all the ins and outs of their personal life (we are parents, after all…not friends), I do think it’s important not to lie. After all, if you get to that 3 month mark and decide to move forward with introductions, your teenager may look at you and say, “Is this who you’ve been going out with this entire time when you’ve been saying you’re just ‘going out with a friend’?” A small lie can lead to a lot of resentment. And that’s not how you want to start the relationship.
So, if asked by your child about where you’re going or who you’re going with, it might be okay to say something like, “I’m going out with ______. We’ve been out a couple of times, but I want to get to know him better before I introduce him to you. You are the most important person in my life and I want to make sure this is someone who might be a good fit for all of us first.”
By saying something like that, you are able accomplish 3 things:
1. You have alleviated one of your child’s worries that they may not be as important to you anymore and confirmed that you will only introduce them to someone who you feel is worthy of knowing them.
2. You’ve gently let them know that you are dating and can gauge from their reaction how ready they are for this next step in both of your lives. If they seem horrified, you may need to lay extra some groundwork before that first meeting. If they seem like they understand, you’ll know that you might be able to move forward when the time is right.
3. You’ve given your child a small sense of control and the knowledge that you’re in this together. That you’re looking out for the both of you.
We are fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it) to be living during a time when single parenting and dating as a parent aren’t unusual. By the time I started dating and my kids understood the concept, half of the kids at their school were going through the same thing. And I had witnessed enough (and listened to my kids enough) to know which parents had handled it well and who could have done it better.
As with any stage in parenting, communication is key. This is especially true in the parenting/dating world. Change is hard and it can be especially difficult when someone is unclear about what’s going on or they feel they have no control over a situation. Any parent who is thinking of dating should constantly put themselves in the place of their child and think, “How would I want to be treated or communicated with if I were him/her?”
This next stage of both of your lives can be positive, even exciting. But the outcome is largely up to you and how you deal with the situation. Always remember: You’re not dating on your own as you probably were the first time around.
You’re taking your kids on this journey, too.
Catherine Tidd is a writer, widow and mother of three. She is the founder of www.theWiddahood.com, a free peer support website dedicated to anyone who has lost a significant other and has a Facebook peer support page under the name Widow Chick. Along with being published in several books on grief and renewal, Catherine is also a humorous motivational speaker who focuses on “finding joy in a life you weren’t expecting.” She also writes a blog on parenting and NASCARing called NASCAR Brady Bunch.